First was formed in 1995 from the merger of the Badgerline Group plc based in Weston-Super-Mare, and GRT Bus Group plc based in Aberdeen. FirstGroup plc is the UK’s largest surface transportation company with a turnover of over six billion pounds, employing over 120,000 staff in Europe and North America. First runs local bus services throughout the UK outside London, and these currently carry some 2.3 million passengers per day in more than forty major towns and cities from Aberdeen to Penzance, with express coach services also operated in Ireland.
Full details of First’s operations can be found at www.firstgroup.com.
First is also the UK’s largest train operator, with four passenger franchises: First Great Western, First Capital Connect, First TransPennine Express and First ScotRail. First also owns Hull Trains, an “open access” operator.
Between them these companies operate one quarter of the UK passenger rail network with a balanced portfolio of intercity, commuter and regional services, and carry over 310 million passengers per year. The Croydon Tramlink operated by First on behalf of Transport for London carries 29 million passengers per year.
First’s North American business is split into First Student (yellow school buses), First Transit (local bus service operations) and Greyhound. Besides the iconic Greyhound brand, market segmentation has seen the introduction of Bolt Bus and Yo! Bus for long distance coaching in recent years. All three divisions provide services across Canada and North America. First Student alone carries over four million passengers daily with a fleet of over 60000 school buses.
Having previously trialled LPG, CNG, fuel cell and battery electric vehicles, together with experimental hybrids, all First buses run on ultra-low sulphur diesel. The use of more fuel efficient and less polluting hybrid vehicles continues to grow, with these vehicles now in service in London, Leeds, Manchester, Bath, Chelmsford, Heathrow and Glasgow. In partnership with City of York Council, electric vehicles have been introduced to the York Park & Ride services in 2014, and hybrid vehicles drafted in to City services. Meanwhile, in Aberdeen a partnership with the City Council will see the first UK use of hydrogen fuel cell buses outside London, these being introduced
Successful evaluation of the lightweight Wrightbus Streetlite vehicle has led to significant orders for these vehicles in 2013 and 2014. The original design has been developed to a full size single deck vehicle and the latest “micro hybrid” variant, which uses waste energy from braking to power vehicle ancillary systems, has helped to cut fuel use and emissions still further. The first production “micro hybrid” Streetlites entered service in 2014 across First’s operations. First is committed to reducing its fuel use, and significant driver training, education and feedback programmes have been rolled out to assist in achieving this aim. The GreenRoad system monitors each driver’s braking, acceleration and cornering forces, and, by highlighting where the normal limits of these are exceeded, is used to provide ongoing education and training of drivers, improving fuel economy, road safety and passenger comfort. This alone has delivered fuel savings of over 5% across the board.
FIRST will be a key partner in the demonstration part of the project work package 8 “Demonstration, dissemination and exploitation” as well as playing a role in the requirements definition of work package 1 “ESPRIT: User and system requirements and common functional specification” and the definition of the business model in work package 7 “Business model estimation tool developments”. FIRST will bring knowledge and expertise in public transport operation and is seeking to explore opportunities for extension of the role of public transport beyond its conventional scope by exploring the part ESPRIT can play where demand is too low and dispersed for the economic and sustainable operation of bus systems. FIRST will be responsible for the Glasgow demonstration and will work with the other partners and external stakeholders to deliver a demonstration of ESPRIT providing distributed public transport connections to mainstream local bus services in the area of the pilot application.
BIRTWISTLE John, male, is projects director for FirstGroup plc’s UK Bus Division. He leads initiatives on a variety of subjects including local authority partnerships, network reviews, business opportunities, concessionary fares, Bus Rapid Transit, vehicle technology, legal issues, European policy and legislation, ticketing schemes, etc. John also acts as a representative of First, and of the UK bus industry, on a number of Governmental and industry committees. He has also advised on the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit in the USA. John will be supported
as necessary by members of the local managerial team in Glasgow.